Obedience, Identity in Christ and the Holy Spirit

For me there is a new home and a new set of challenges for the new year. It seems as though I’m caught wrestling with changes that happen – sometimes by choice but often outside my control.  It is in the context of a dynamic ever-changing life that I sense I have a real opportunity this coming year to grow in my effectiveness for God’s kingdom.  Not that this is meant in any way to add another burden to my busy life but as a reminder of what is primary in my life on earth lived for Jesus. What emerges is the challenge of setting intentional but realistic goals for the long-term rather than simply as a response to what is happening in the present.

This long-term view is something I want to be shaped by the values of God’s kingdom. God’s values don’t change in a random manner but are consistent.  As is the character of God – Hebrews reminds us that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever (Heb 13:8).  My reliance on God is a connection with a God who wants to develop my life and use who I am to achieve his unchanging purpose.  I certainly feel and experience a great deal of inadequacy but am constantly encouraged by God’s forgiveness and grace to rest in his truth rather than evaluate myself as unsuitable for God to use because of my inconsistencies.  I need a distinct reliance on God’s Spirit in my life.  It is true that God’s Spirit resides in the lives of believers but to walk in the power of God’s Spirit for me is to daily count the cost of following Jesus; to realise that human effort – my efforts to please God – are never going to be adequate; and to place my day – my decisions and my direction into God’s hands under the control of the Spirit.  It means letting go of my desires and yielding to God’s control – not that this is easy – it is however beneficial and liberating.  Brian's Phone Pictures 538

My identity is found in Christ – who values me as a loved child who is fearfully and wonderfully made. This is not something that is changed by my failure but remains the long-term value of God.  And not just for me.  The great part of this value is that what is true for me is true for every person in the world.  Our life experiences or our life choices don’t change God’s perspective on our worth.  What often happens, however, is our mind believes lies about our worth based on our experiences.  We need to allow the truth to set us free (John 8:32) rather than allow the lies to bind our lives up in ineffectiveness and an ongoing wrestle with our identity.  I personally have wrestled over the years with this very understanding and it has been the long-term attention and goal in this direction that has seen the advances in being content with who I am and how God has gifted me.  This has brought the freedom to not have to compete against others for recognition or personal validation but simply rejoice in being unique and loved by God.

Paul states that it is the renewing of the mind – a new way of thinking aligned with God’s truth – that enables us to prove the effectiveness of God’s good will and purpose in our lives (Romans 12:2). This lining up of our goals and purpose with God’s will means that we change from focussing selfishly on ourselves and our dreams and visions to a new perspective.  And this is the challenge for me to continually grow in effectiveness because I’m committed to God’s purpose.

Maybe the particular aspects of your life and the points of growth may be different from the ones impacting me but God’s truth actively bringing us the freedom and promise of God means that we are all able to benefit from the work of God applied personally. When we believe that God can use us – which is the truth the Scriptures teach – then we are going to make a difference to those we have connection with and influence.  Serving our Lord means at times we will have to wrestle strongly with the temptation to go our own way but God’s love, grace and mercy is able to bring glory to God from our willing lives.  The first steps of faltering obedience sure beats ignoring the voice of the Spirit of God and remaining in a place of ineffective service to God.  So join me (and a growing band of local believers) in stepping out in obedience to the Holy Spirit – though it takes courage and willingness to focus attention on God’s ways it brings the greatest long-term rewards.

Pastor Brian

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Resolutions and Positive Change

Maybe the tendency to make resolutions at the start of a new year is an indication that we have a level of dissatisfaction with how things currently lie for us as individuals or even within the context of a group. Maybe this dissatisfaction becomes that positive spur to make a change in the way we do things – whether in action or attitude the change brings about a different result.  There is no use doing the same things we always do and hoping for a different outcome – it’s not going to work that way.

Equally however, the fact that many resolutions fall by the wayside rather quickly is a very real indicator of how hard it is to change – old habits and attitudes die hard. Maybe a number of these hard-nosed manners or ways of thinking in our lives contributes to the measure of dissatisfaction but our familiarity with these ‘frustrating’ approaches means we justify our approach – “it’s hard to change”; “I’ve tried other ways and they haven’t work so I’ll stay with this approach even though I’m not fully happy with it.”  And we get on with life – maybe hoping for that miracle to spark a change but deep down resolving ourselves to a measure of disappointment and discouragement. Camera (Canon) 005

Obviously we shouldn’t give up trying to break into positive and helpful new habits and attitudes but we must look at it as a long term investment. We cannot expect to change everything overnight – no matter how attractive or desirable that might seem.  The issue of perseverance, the issue of forgiving ourselves and others for failures, the issue of being gracious to others as an open door for others to be gracious to us all need to be confronted on our journey to positive change.  Sure it is easier to retreat or resist (flight or fight) but the pathway to growth involves persevering – picking yourself up from disruptions – and continuing on the long term goal you’ve set for yourself knowing that it is a worthwhile goal that will bring worthwhile elements to our lives.  It also involves forgiving others for their failures towards us but also forgiving ourselves for our failures.  It is time to challenge ideas that damage our self respect – don’t be so hard on yourself or ruled by an unrealistic drive towards perfection that whips us harder to achieve more and more that effectively adds further condemnation.  To bring positive change involves practicing generosity and graciousness even when it is contrary to what we feel we’d like to do.

In the end these attributes are part of our spiritual mandate – press on towards the goal set before you to win the prize (Heb 12:1); run the race so as to win (1 Cor 9:24); forgive others that God might forgive us (Matt 6:14-15); do unto others as God has done to us (Matt 7:12) – show grace and mercy. And practice love.  Find out how to be a great love-giver by starting to give love because with practice we will get better.  Others may not always see our expression of love at first, because there are different ways to express love or different love “languages” but with perseverance we will find out how to love others and do it more and more effectively.

At Connect Baptist Church – Deagon we value innovation; pursuing excellence; being other-centred in our outlook rather than self-centred; remaining relevant and being generous in our life practice. These may seem to be aspirational rather than realised at any given moment but every step we make both individually and collectively in these areas the more we will reflect these values in our vision and practice.  Blessing is assured to all those who seek the righteousness of God and seek the advancement of God’s kingdom – we simply need to look with the eyes of faith .

Pastor Brian

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Reflection on Brokenness and Humility and the Mission of God

Broken jarWhen we consider the sinful world in which we live, we can easily see the ways in which we are all broken. We share in common the impact of that brokenness on our personal expectations as well as in our dealings with the people in our world, our workplaces and in our wandering around in life’s colosseum. Though there can be a tendency to minimise the brokenness, even disregard it at times as a reality, for those bold enough to admit the truth regarding their lack of completeness and embrace humility towards God there is a huge and vital step to experiencing freedom and spiritual victory. It is the act of humility in coming to God in the first place that opens the way. From one perspective we could view the brokenness we experience as a means that puts us at a point close to humility – something that delights the Lord’s heart – if we only reach out to God.   Then it is not merely an attempt to simply ‘try harder,’ develop ‘new skills’ or find other human means of overcoming our brokenness. Inspiring though these human stories can be they do not get to the root cause of our brokenness in the first place.

Now the writer of the book of Hebrews outlines that faith is necessary to please God and it is based on the understanding that God rewards those who diligently seek him (Heb 11:6). This searching for God rather than a throwing up of our hands in disgust or resignation places us on the right pathway to discovering and benefiting from the work of God through Jesus, as well as being connected to the ongoing mission of God.   You never experience the depths of God’s heart when standing on the outside waiting for him to do you bidding. It is when we put our faith in God’s hands we find the experience of his connection in very real and often powerfully unexpected ways. The act of humility is necessary, where acting upon the faith we place in God and the work and person of Jesus we find that he fulfils the needs of those who seek his kingdom and its mission.

Peter (1 Pet 5:5-6) and James (Jam 4:4-10) both reflect on the need for humility in our relationship with God. Peter points out that God resists the proud but embraces the humble one. This humility means delighting in others, even when they provide a greater impact than presently we are experiencing. As Peter draws attention to, God is likely to exalt the humble person also. We simply need to have this life rhythm firmly in place so that in God’s timing and purpose he might use us as, and when, he sees fit. We can only live in the moment of time we have now but what we do now, done well and in a manner that pleases God, builds into a wonderful legacy from which others can learn and receive inspiration. It may also result in us gaining the place of wonder and deeper influence in God’s mission. James likewise expresses the thought that God opposes the proud and will lift up the humble. He also mentions that we shouldn’t give attention to the worldly values of our brokenness which ultimately puts us in the place of being God’s enemy – friendship with the world means you are an enemy of God. Strong language to make the point clear that we must live our lives in submission to God’s will and purpose.

The early church was young and inexperienced, and we could probably find a long list of immature behaviour and lack of vision for the fullest picture of Jesus’ commandment. But this would overlook the unity and endeavour, the zeal and boldness that the Holy Spirit empowered believers exercised in their lives and ministry. Sure, the book of Acts is a brief snapshot of the early church but it is like those old photographs we have on the sideboard or in the photo albums or plastered on our walls…they show what it was like at some point and tell a reasonably accurate picture of the time. It reminds us that God uses broken people, empowered by his Holy Spirit, humbling accepting his work of grace to build his kingdom. What was true for the early church is equally valid for followers of God in the twenty-first century. To be used of God requires us to be humble. This doesn’t mean avoiding responsibility or leaving it to someone else because we judge them to be better qualified – the truth is you can always find someone who does better than you what you do well. It does mean doing our part in humility to add the fullness God’s body has when it works and walks in unity. A clear recognition of our brokenness and limitations, together with a positive acceptance of help – even asking for help – is a great place to launch towards and experience the victory and power of God.

Bless your humble godly service.

Pastor Brian

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Extending the Kingdom of God – A Reflection

One perspective that causes us to think is that God is actively working in all parts of the world. For many it seems irreconcilable that God is working in some parts of the world – it is sinful and ungodly is our judgment – but this fails to understand that God is everywhere in the world and loves all people just as He loves us. He is not absent from places that seem to be filled with darkness. Didn’t David say (Ps 139:7-12) there was nowhere to go to escape God’s presence? Sure we as Christians bear the light of God and so it is important to take it to others, to present the truth of God and to understand that people need to be conformed to a new lifestyle and allegiance and enter into a committed relationship with the living God but we should never stop believing that God is active in our world in our country; in our city; in our streets; in our schools; in our neighbourhoods and in our homes. It is God who changes hearts and lives not human beings!  He loves every single person, even we find it difficult or impossible!

One story I heard told recently illustrates the point of how God was evident in a strongly Islamic city. Someone surveying the city and actively looking for the evidence that God was there and doing something initially reached the conclusion – all I see is mosques and devoted people but no evidence of any active movement by the living God. The judgment was that God was absent. Until the realisation came that time after time – revealed in conversations struck up with those coming from the mosques – many people in the midst of their prayers were seeing a vision of Jesus the Messiah. What it raised in these devout people were questions about Jesus and a searching to know answers – God was drawing attention to himself … at work in this supposedly God-forsaken place.

botanical gardens 017Are we attentive to what God is doing in our neighbourhood? Or in those people we come into contact with? Or do we simply see all the barriers and the hardness of heart. If we stop to listen to what God might say to us and ask God to reveal himself in these ‘forbidden’ areas we might be surprised at just how active God is in our community. So do you want to get involved in doing something effective for God? Listen for his Spirit, seek his guidance, and pray that you might have eyes to see and ears to hear!

Maybe the point at which the challenge hits home is in our personal connection with those who need to meet Jesus. It may be more comfortable and less inconvenient for us personally to leave the task to others but God’s expectation seems to be that we all get involved according to God’s gifting in our lives. We all bear the light of Jesus and generate a testimony of the effectiveness of God to change lives. How many of us disqualify ourselves by staying in the corner or remaining in the safety of our comfort zone when God really wants to use us? Oh how he wants to reshape our thinking and break down the barriers within our lives. Oh how he wants to delight in using us to show others how God makes a difference. Oh how he wants our lives to provoke others to ask questions because we are different and things operate in ways they see and even like but don’t have.

One mission group I’m aware of requires their missionaries to be involved in a local “community of practice.” A community of practice is something that will meet whether you are there or not…like a book club or a gym class or a craft group or a local community gardening group. It might even be a politically active group but it is a place where you belong without determining the agenda. It is in these places then that you rub shoulders with those of different ways of thinking and varied life experience. In the making of relationships and forming connections you allow others to see who you are and what you act like. We might say we have busy lives and therefore don’t have time to spare to be involved in these ventures. But when we set as an important choice to intentionally form relationships with the purpose of being God’s light and salt we shift the focus to God’s goals.  This takes the focus off the reasons why we cannot do something that gives God an important avenue for kingdom expansion. What stops us from venturing into new things are well entrenched ‘ruts’ that to some degree are safe but at the same time can irritate us. We could stay with the ‘devil we know’ rather than step out in faith for God. We make excuses as to why we can’t do it rather than find ways to make it happen. The great testimonies of God’s faithfulness come from stepping out in faith not from staying in the safe place! If we can see the importance of connection to those we are seeking to introduce to God then we’ll actually find the ways to make it happen. Otherwise it looks as if we don’t care.

Pastor Brian

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Reflection on Fire

On these colder days a fire warming up our bodies is an attractive thought and an even more fulfilling experience.  It may be that the fire is inside or outside but there is something about a fire that draws our fascination to higher levels:  the random flicking of the flames; the colours and sparks that the fire generates; the noises, crackles and pops as the wood is consumed; the romantic atmosphere of a warm environment and the light of the fire; even the toasting of bread or marshmallows.  Throughout the Bible various situations reflect the warmth, light and consuming nature of fire as the people interact with God.

Logfire2God guided by a pillar of fire on the Israelites journey through the desert.  Even though they had been disobedient God still provided guidance, awareness of his presence and care for his people.  Added to this was the provision of food in a dry, arid and generally sparse environment.  God demonstrated his immense care, protection, grace and love throughout this difficult period for the Israelites.  Mind you it didn’t help them get on the side of obedience very easily – the odd one here and there but in general as a people they remained disobedient rather than obedient.  Maybe there is a similarity today: God shows his power and might, his love and care, his interest and support, his guidance and provision throughout history, his creation and in the world yet it doesn’t necessarily turn people into obedient followers of God.  The world resists the work of God preferring the darkness instead of the light.

Daniel’s friends found themselves placed in the furnace fire because of their loyalty and obedience to God standing strongly in the face of the Babylonian king’s instruction.  In this situation God demonstrated his power again by protecting his servants.  Though the fire was made hotter and the guards were burned those placed in the furnace experienced the power of God and were rescued – their faith in God despite the possible outcome of death enabled them to confidently exclaim that God would rescue them and if he chose otherwise they would continue to trust God.  The challenge for us today is to remain faithful to God in the situations that we confront – with faith in our God to bring rescue and relief and yet a conviction that whatever happens we will remain loyal to God.

Logfire1Jesus sat waiting for his disciples by the fire at the Sea of Galilee.  Having been out fishing all night without success the disciples obeyed Jesus’ instructions regarding their fishing techniques – experienced fishermen obeying the so-called stranger on the beach – to catch boat loads of fish.  Some of these fish ended up being cooked on the fire as Jesus met his disciples having risen from the dead.  He used this occasion to reinstate Peter despite of his failure to stand up for Jesus at the trial of Jesus.  Peter’s broken promises and denial didn’t stand in the way of the depth of connection he had with Jesus and Jesus made certain Peter understood he was fully accepted.  It showed that failure was not a limiting factor in the care, support guidance and use of him as God’s agent in the advancement of the kingdom.  Maybe it was the mark of humility that was necessary for Peter to be effective in the future.  Mind you he didn’t enjoy the close attention to detail Jesus ‘pressed in’ with, reacting to Jesus’ questions about his love for him, but ultimately knowing the forgiveness and acceptance of the one he’d turned away from.  This in turn gives us hope as we face our own failure, denial and emotion about Jesus.  Jesus brings forgiveness to our situations, our failures to live up to our hopes and commitments, our flaws and inconsistencies and even those times when in weakness we like Peter deny our Lord.

So as you sit and enjoy the romantic evening, or the warmth of a fire, or simply toasting your marshmallows please don’t stick your hand in the fire or you’ll come off second best.  It’s the perfect place to reflect on the warmth and love of God for us; to revel in the grace and compassion of Jesus who delights in us and calls us to obedience; to experience the depth of forgiveness given to us and allow the fullness of Jesus’ invitation to follow him to be an inspiration to seek the advancement of the kingdom of God.  God bless you in your obedience.

Pastor Brian

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Gardening and God’s Kingdom …Still

Last month I looked at a pastime of mine – gardening – in relation to God’s kingdom.  This discussion brought attention to the need to firstly plant the seed and secondly water and fertilise the seed.  By giving attention to our investment in God’s word, and subsequently our obedience we will realise the fruitful ‘crop’ we are all designed to bear – spiritual fruit that will affect great impact upon the world in which we live.  With an attitude of love we serve our God and others rather than self-centredly focussing on our ‘rights.’  God affords each of us the luxury of having a different input into his kingdom’s work than anyone else but the collective expression is more glorious than the individual one as it shows the unity of God’s kingdom.  It is rather like the cottage garden feel with many flowers randomly mixed together producing small and tall plants, flowers of different shape, aroma and colour all doing their part to create this wonderful impact for those walking in the garden – well at least those with their eyes open!

However, one problem for gardeners is the unwanted plants or weeds.  These draw away the nutrition of the plants we wish to develop; they rob the space and take away from the effectiveness of the harvest or floral display.  Getting rid of weeds helps the garden grow strongly and efficiently.  So too our lives and witness needs attention directed to what must be ‘rooted out.’  As you think about your life are there aspects that you know you’d be more effective in your witness without them?  Maybe it is a habit you’ve formed or the response to a life experience that your sense now is that God wants that to change and be presented differently.  Here is the place of growth and development; bring your prayers and petitions to God.  We can trust him to bring about the changes and produce the development of fruit in our lives rather than a mere acceptance that it will always be the same.  We stop growth the minute we turn away from the pressing and pruning of the Holy Spirit.  We bring grief to the Spirit of God and limit his power.  How then can we say we are filled with the Holy Spirit?

In the parable of the sower Jesus tells what seems to be a simple story that tapped into his audience’s life experiences to illustrate profound concepts of the kingdom of God.  Though Jesus was the master story teller often the point seemed to elude the listeners, so it is hoped that we don’t miss what Jesus is saying and thereby limit our expression of fruitfulness.  Jesus indicates that it is God’s word planted in our hearts that brings forth the harvest, when the soil is right, ready and able to produce fruit. In the soils that proved to be unproductive and unfruitful it is the hardness of the ‘soil’, the depth of ‘soil’ and the condition of the ‘soil’ that makes a difference to the outcome.

Let’s explore and examine under the loving spotlight of God some potentially life-changing but hard questions.  Are our hearts hardened in any way to the work of God?  Are we resilient in the face of testing?  Do we have the ability to continue to be faithful and obedient in troubled times?  Does the impact of worldly interests influence us in unhelpful or even destructive ways?  What are the temptations that draw us away?  How about the cares or troubles of the world?  Or what are pleasures that the world offers (even if deceptive and short lasting)?  Does the pursuit of riches place a hold on us causing us to be self focussed?  Are there attitudes and actions that reflect greed and self interest rather than building the kingdom of God?  Personally, I’ve been stopped recently by God to meditate on the things that distract me.  I’ve been challenged to seek the ‘best’ of God not just some of God.  This involves looking at what makes me lose sight of the fullness or best God has to give in my unique life, personality, life experiences and interest base?  Maybe he is speaking to you about similar matters.

mayweekendaway2011 073The fruit of our lives will reflect the attributes of God’s character.  We are made in God’s image (fearfully and wonderfully says David in Psalm 139:14) so we are designed to be image bearers of the creator of the world.  It is sin, rebellion and the pursuit of our desires that ruins and mars the presentation so is it any wonder that as those restored by his Spirit we become once again the true reflection of the image and character of God.  We take on his nature and live according to his values principles and precepts.  Maybe the psalmist reflected this well in his song in Psalm 119 (especially in verses 34-40 and 89-96) about how God’s word, his principles and statutes make a positive benefit to all who live under its influence and direction.  God bless you all.

Pastor Brian

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Gardening is fun – at least I think so.  Getting your hands dirty, planting seeds, weeding out the unwanted plants fertilising the plants that will produce something – a display of colour or a plate of food – all form part of that exciting gardening experience.  But I know that gardening doesn’t light everybody’s passion!  It’s a shame because gardening is a great illustration of the work needed in God’s kingdom.  Ground needs to be prepared; we need to water and fertilise the precious seed that has been planted and is yet vulnerable; we need to allow time for the seed to grow and eventually produce a harvest.

Of course we realise that in our network of relationships that everyone is not ready to be harvested at the same time.  Though Jesus said the harvest was plentiful and the workers few we know that to reach the harvest God has to move in people’s hearts and minds, convict them of their need for salvation, and draw them to himself.  We (as individuals and collectively) all form part of that exercise by our planting of kingdom seeds, preparing the ground through good conversation that draws out faith and challenges thinking, yet is always shown with love compassion and grace; and by demonstrating in a living way that the kingdom of God is alive and active in our lives.

Paul reminds us that it is God who gives the increase yet we can all play our part in seeing the harvest come to fruition by building into others lives in our personally unique ways through the testimony we experience of God’s work in our own lives (1 Cor 3:6-7).  This of course assumes that this is a reality for us and not something that we have to pretend exists because our personal experiences of God’s work are infrequent and shallow.  This is not God’s fault – he who not is withholding things from us – but comes from our response to his kingdom work and the call on our lives.  We could leave the witnessing to other people and save ourselves the time and effort of presenting and living the testimony of God in our lives but ultimately we are the one who misses out!!

IMG_0648Jesus reminds us as disciples that the measure of love is seen clearest in the willingness to lay down you lives for your friends (Jn 15:13).  We understand that Jesus gave up his life in full allegiance to the Father, going via the road of suffering, rejection, persecution and injustice, to bring the freedom that all people need.  The words he uses speak of his forthcoming journey to the cross and death, “Truly, truly I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies it remains alone.  But if it dies, it bears much fruit (Jn 12:24).”  Without the yielding of ourselves to God’s will (a death to our right to control our lives our way) we cannot produce fruit…but if we yield to God’s will we produce much fruit.  We are connected to the Vine and produce his fruit in our lives.  Likewise Paul says the fruit of the Holy Spirit in our lives is measured in love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, kindness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-discipline (Gal 5:23).  Our lives need the daily taking up of our cross – the daily willingness to yield to God’s control in our lives for us to fully realise the promises of God personally.  It is so much easier to plant seeds when we ourselves are seed planted to produce a fruitful harvest.

Just as plants need water and sunshine to develop, everyone who wishes to grow in God’s kingdom must take care to “drink the living water and feed on the light of God.”  The practice of connection with God and his revelation needs prominence in our lives – not the last position or even the second position.  I love the idea of walking with God all the time.  From the rising in the morning, until the retirement to our beds for rest and replenishment of our physical and emotional energies we can we aware of God’s Spirit’s guidance and direction, his power and prompting as to what to do and what not to do.  We need that framework by which we spend time reading God’s instruction (the Bible) and allowing our thoughts to think about (meditate) what we are learning, what the Bible reading is saying to us, measuring how it works out in our lives and how it makes a difference to how we live.  And especially how it influences those thoughts and deliberations that are unseen by others.

Everything seems easier in theory and discussion than in practice but the place for us to observe most fully God’s kingdom development is in the growth he brings in our life and testimony.  It might be messy work but it affords us the opportunity to talk about it with those who are open to conversation and other people will be drawn to Jesus – Jesus living powerfully in us.

Pastor Brian

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Our Relationship with God

God gives an invitation to the nation of Israel to be in relationship with him. They are to be exclusively connected to him as their God and he makes a covenant with them to be present with them, to provide for their well being as they journey through life with him. Into this relationship he introduces some guidelines for living, what we can sometimes refer to as the law. This term has often been seen as being harsh and restrictive especially by opponents of God but at its core the rules for living articulate the nature and character of God. It gives guidelines for an ongoing and rich relationship. The nation of Israel was meant to live in such a way that their lifestyle will convince the surrounding nations of the value of this relationship with God (Deut 4:5-8).

The law of God was never intended as a way of bringing salvation because the people of Israel where saved from Egypt because of God’s choice and power. After salvation occurs God demonstrates his ongoing commitment by the forming of these covenant guidelines. In the sense that we cannot ever do anything that will gain us salvation we are like the nation of Israel – reliant on the grace and mercy of God for salvation to come to us. We receive various benefits because of God’s making a covenant with us to do certain things. His promises and forecasts are ultimately found in relationship with Jesus. As Jesus says, “I and the Father are one. …Anyone who has have seen me has seen the Father (Jn 10:30; 14:9).” Jesus embodies the character and nature of God, so he fulfils the law to its uttermost requirement. Print22When Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No-one comes to the Father except through me (Jn 14:6),” we are clearly being instructed that the only way to have salvation and know God is to believe in Jesus. He fulfils all the requirements of relationship with the Father so we need to abide in him. Again to use Jesus’ words: “I am the vine…if you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit: apart from me you can do nothing (Jn 15:5).”

What then is our response? Is it one of following a ‘set of rules and regulations’? No, no, no, no, no. It is one of living out of the relationship in a way that reflects the character of the one with whom we are in relationship. We ultimately will reflect the character of God if we pursue relationship with Jesus. Think about this … Jesus said “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well (Matt 6:33).” The practical aspects of living – food, water, shelter, clothes – are all secondary to the intent of seeking relationship with God, the purpose of God’s family and the nature of that relationship and mission. God takes it upon himself to meet the earthly needs if we will live according to his stated goal.

Most of the time we struggle to remain in Jesus. Our life disappointments, our doubts, our inclination towards sin all contribute to lead us away. The nation of Israel struggled in their journey to remain in that covenant relationship. God again and again reinforced the need to remain in obedience but the clear choice of many in the nation was to be disobedient. In the end the richness of the relationship and the purpose for its existence didn’t have the impact it was designed for. In the same manner if we are obedient God bears fruit in our lives – fruit that Paul says has no restriction or law against it. But we run the risk of following in the footsteps of the nation of Israel when we choose to be disobedient, that God’s plans don’t work out as designed. Sometimes the pathway we choose to follow has established the outcome not because God wanted us to fail but because we failed to remain dedicated to God.

My simple encouragement to all of us is to seek relationship with God. If we delight in our God we will find ourselves focussing on the nature and purpose of God. And though all of us will fail at certain points God’s mercy and grace, through Jesus, means we are never abandoned or cut off. If we lose our focus and allow ourselves by our choices or lack of faith to stop abiding in Jesus we run the risk of falling into that criteria of branches that need to be cut off and thrown into the fire (Jn 15:6). Maybe John puts it well when he says, “We love Jesus because he first loved us (1 Jn 4:19).” Really what other choice do we have but obedience because Jesus has the words of life, gives us living water and quenches our spiritual thirst, forgives our sins, breaks sin’s hold on our lives and gives us eternal life. Ponder afresh the amazing God we serve who wants us to reflect his image, his nature and purpose in the way that we live. Bless you as you live in his grace and mercy and practice this upon others (including yourself).

Pastor Brian

 

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